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i 




Music Library 



i 




Music Library 



I 




STANIORD UNIVERSITY LIBRARl 




jl Music Library 



V 



PIANO PLAYING 




Jose^ Hoimann 



PIA- ) ri .\V!\C 



TC.F, :w i • . •: ('~'1l.\>.\ 



PIANO PLAYING 



A LITTLE BOOK OF SIMPLE SUGGESTIONS 



JOSEF HOFMANN 



ILI.VSTBi.TED 



NEW YORK 

THE HOCLURE COMPANY 

HCUVIII 



frtli 



Copyright^ 1908^ by The McClure Company 






Oopjrright, 1007, by The Curtis PubUahlng Company 



TO MY DEAR FRIEND 
CONSTANTIN VON STERNBERG 



CONTENTS 








PAOK 


A Fo&EWOED 




• • 

vu 


The Piano and Its Playee 




8 


General Rules 




19 


CoEBECT Touch and Tbchnic 




84 


The Use of the Pedal 




41 


Playing "In Styt.e^ 




49 


How Rubinstein Taught Me 


TO Play 


67 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

Jo$ef Hofrrumn Frontispiece 

WAOaXQ 
PAOIB 

The Position of the Hand 20 

Incorrect Way to Play an Octave 28 

Correct Way to Play an Octave 28 

Incorrect Position of the Little Finger 86 

Correct Position of the Little Finger 86 

Incorrect Position of Thwmb 88 

Correct Position of Thumb 88 

Incorrect Position of the Feet 42 

Correct Position of the Feet on the Pedal 42 

Anton Rvhinstevn 57 

How Rubinstein Taught Me to Play 60 



A FOREWORD 

THIS little book purposes to present a 
general view of artistic piano-pla}ang 
and to offer to young students the re- 
sults of such observations as I have made in 
the years of my own studies, as well as of the 
experiences which my public activity has 
brought me. 

It is, of course, only the concrete, the ma- 
terial side of piano-playing that can be dealt 
with here — ^that part of it which aims to repro- 
duce in tones what is plainly stated in the 
printed lines of a composition. The other, very 
much subtler part of piano-playing, draws 
upon and, indeed, depends upon imagination, 
refinement of sensibility, and spiritual vision, 
and endeavours to convey to an audience what 
the composer has, consciously or ujticonsciously, 
hidden between the lines. That almost entirely 
psychic side of piano-playing eludes treatment 
in literary form and must, therefore, not be 



A FOREWORD 

looked for in this little volume. It may not be 
amiss, however, to dwell a moment upon these 
elusive matters of aesthetics and conception, 
though it be only to show how far apart they 
are from technic. 

When the material part, the technic, has 
been completely acquired by the piano student, 
he will see a limitless vista opening up before 
him, disclosing the vast field of artistic inter- 
pretation. In this field the work is largely of 
an analytical nature and requires that intelli- 
gence, spirit, and sentiment, supported by 
knowledge and aesthetic perception, form a 
felicitous union to produce results of value and 
dignity. It is in this field that the student must 
le^ to perceive the invisible something which 
unifies the seemingly separate notes, groups, 
periods, sections, and parts into an organic 
whole. The spiritual eye for this invisible some- 
thing is what musicians have in mind when 
they speak of " reading between the lines " — 
which is at once the most fascinating and most 
difficult task of the interpretative artist; for, 
it is just between the lines where, in literature 
as in music, the soul of a work of art lies hid- 

vm 



A FOREWORD 

den. To play its notes, even to play them cor- 
rectly, is still very far from doing justice to 
the life and soul of an artistic composition. 

I should like to reiterate at this point two 
words which I used in the second paragraph: 
the words "consciously or imconsdously." A 
brief comment upon this alternative may lead 
to observations which may throw a light 
upon the matter of reading between the lines, 
especially as I am rather strongly inclining 
toward the belief in the " unconscious " side of 
the alternative. 

I believe that every composer of talent (not 
to speak of genius) in his moments of creative 
fever has given birth to thoughts, ideas, de- 
signs that lay altogether beyond the reach of 
his conscious will and control. In speaking of 
the products of such periods we have hit upon 
exactly the right word when we say that the 
composer " has surpassed himself." For, in say- 
ing this we recognise that the act of surpassing 
one's self precludes the control of the self. A 
critical, sober overseeing of one's work during 
the period of creation is unthinkable, for it is 
the fancy and the imagination that carries one 

ix 



1 



A FOREWORD 

on and on» will-lessly, drif tingly, until fhe to- 
tality of the tonal apparition is completed and 
mentally as well as physically absorbed. 

Now» inasmuch as the composer's conscious 
will takes little or no part in the creating of the 
work, it seems to follow that he is not, neces- 
sarily, an absolute authority as to the *^ only 
correct way" of rendering it. Pedantic adher- 
ence to the composer's own conception is, to my 
mind, not an unassailable maxim. The com- 
poser's way of rendering his composition may 
not be free from certain predilections, biases, 
mannerisms, and his rendition may also suffer 
from a paucity of pianistic experience. It 
seems, therefore, that to do justice to the work 
itself is of far greater importance than a sla- 
vish adherence to the composer's conception. 

Now, to discover what it is, intellectually or 
emotionally, that hides itself between the lines; 
how to conceive and how to interpret it — ^that 
must ever rest with the reproductive artist, 
provided that he possesses not only the spir- 
itual vision which entitles him to an individual 
conception, but also the technical skill to ex- 
press what this individual conception (aided by 

X 



A FOREWORD 

imagination and analysis) has whispered to 
him. Taking these two conditions for granted, 
his interpretations -r- however punctiliously he 
adhere to the text — ^will and must be a reflex 
of his breeding, education, temperament, dis- 
position ; in short, of all the faculties and quali- 
ties that go to make up his personality. And 
as these personal qualities differ between 
players, their interpretations must, necessarily, 

differ in the same measure. 

In some respects the performance of a piece 

of music resembles the reading of a book aloud 
to some one. If a book should be read to us by 
a person who does not ujtiderstand it, would 
it impress us as true, convincing, or even cred- 
ible? Can a dull person, by reading them to us, 
convey bright thoughts intelligibly? Even if 
such a person were drilled to read with out- 
ward correctness that of which he cannot 
fathom the meaning, the reading could not 
seriously engage our attention, because the 
reader's want of imderstanding would be sure 
to effect a lack of interest in us. Whatever is 
said to an audience, be the speech literary or 
musical, must be a free and individual expres- 

xi 



A FOREWORD 

sion, governed only by general aesthetic laws 
or rules; it must be free to be artistic, and it 
must be individual to have vital force. Tradi- 
tional conceptions of works of art are '^ canned 
goods/' unless the individual happens to con- 
cur with the traditional conception, which, at 
best, is very rarely the case and does not speak 
well for the mental calibre of the easily con- 
tented treader of the beaten path. 

We know how precious a thmg is freedom. 
But in modem times it is not only precious, 
it is also costly ; it is based upon certain posses- 
sions. This holds as good in life as in art. To 
move comfortably with freedom in life requires 
money; freedom in art requires a sovereign 
mastery of tedmic The pianist's artistic bank- 
accoujtit upon which he can draw at any mo- 
ment is his technic. We do not gauge him by 
it as an artist, to be sure, but rather by the use 
he makes of it; just as we respect the wealthy 
according to the way in which they use their 
money. And as there are wealthy people that 
are vulgar, so there may be pianists who, de- 
spite the greatest technic, are not artists. Still, 
while money is to a gentleman perhaps no 

xu 



A FOREWORD 

more than a rather agreeable adjunct, technic 
is to the pianist's equipment an indispensable 
necessity. 

To assist young students in acquiring this 
necessity, the following articles were written 
for The Ladies' Home Journal, and for this 
form I have gone over them and corrected and 
amplified. I sincerely hope that they will 
help my young colleagues to become free as 
piano-playing musicians first, and that this, in 
its turn and with the help of good fortune in 
their career, will bring them the means to make 
them equally free in their daily life. 

Josef Hofmann. 



••• 
xin 



PIANO PLAYING 



THE PIANO AND ITS PLAYER 

THE first requisite for one who wishes 
to become a musicianly and artistic 
pianist is a precise knowledge of the 
possibilities and limitations of the piano as an 
instrument. Having properly recognised them 
bothy having thus staked oS a stretch of 
ground for his activity, he must explore it to 
discover all the resources for tonal expres- 
sion that are hidden within its pale. With 
these resources, however, he must be contented. 
He must, above all, never strive to rival the 
orchestra. For there is no necessity to attempt 
an3ihing so foolish and so futile, since the 
gamut of expressions inherent to the piano is 
quite extensive enough to vouchsafe artistic re- 
sults of the very highest order, provided, of 
course, that this gamut is used in an artistic 
manner. 



8 



PIANO PLAYING 

THE PIANO AND THE OBCHESTBA 

From one point of view the piano can claim 
to be the equal of the orchestra ; namely, in so 
far as it is— no less than the orchestra— the 
exponent of a specific branch of music which, 
complete by itself, reposes upon a literature 
exclusively its own and of a type so distin- 
guished that only the orchestra can claim to 
possess its peer. The great superiority of the 
literature of the piano over that of any other 
single instrument has, to my knowledge, never 
been disputed. I think it is equally certain that 
the piano grants to its players a greater free- 
dom of expression than any other instrument; 
greater — in certain respects — than even the 
orchestra, and very much greater than the or- 
gan, which, after all, lacks the intimate, per- 
sonal element of " touch " and the immediate- 
ness of its variegated results. 

In dynamic and colouristic qualities, on the 
other hand, the piano cannot bear comparison 
with the orchestra; for in these qualities it is 
very limited indeed. The prudent player wiU 

not go beyond these limits. The utmost that 

4 



THE PIANO AND ITS PLAYER 

the pianist can achieve in the way of colour 
may be likened to what the painters call 
" monochrome." For in reality the piano, like 
any other instrument, has only one colour; but 
the artistic player can subdivide the colour into 
«! infinite number «>d variety of shades. The 
virtue of a specific charm, too, attaches as much 
to the piano as to other instruments, though, 
perhaps, in a lesser degree of sensuousness than 
to some others. Is it because of this lesser sen- 
suous charm that the art of the piano is consid- 
ered the chastest of all instruments? I am 
rather inclined to think that it is, partly at 
least, due to this chastity that it " wears " best, 
that we can listen longer to a piano than to 
other instruments, and that this chastity may 
have had a reflex action upon the character of 
its unparagoned literature. 

For this literature, though, we have to thank 
the pianists themselves, or, speaking more pre- 
cisely, we are indebted to the circumstance that 
the piano is the only single instrument capable 
of conveying the complete entity of a composi- 
tion. That melody, bass, harmony, figuration, 
polyphony, and the most intricate contrapim- 

5 



PIANO PLAYING 

tal devices can — ^by skilful hands — ^be ren- 
dered simultaneously and (to all intents and 
purposes) completely on the piano has prob- 
ably been the inducement which persuaded the 
great masters of music to choose it as their fa- 
vourite instrument. 

It may be mentioned at this point that the 
piano did not have the effect of impairing the 
orchestration of the great composers — as some 
musical wiseacres assert from time to time — 
for they have written just as fine works for a 
variety of other instruments, not to speak of 
their symphonies. Thus has, for instance, the 
most substantial part of the violin literature 
been contributed by piano-players (Bach, Mo- 
zart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bruch, 
Saint-Saens, Tschaikowski, and many others). 
As to the literature of the orchestra, it came 
almost exclusively from those masters whose 
only, or chief est, medimn of musical utterance 
was the piano. Highly organised natures, as 
they were, they liked to dress their thoughts, 
sometimes, in the colour splendour of the or- 
chestra. Looking at the depth of their piano 
works, however, at their sterhng merit, at their 

6 



THE PIANO AND ITS PLAYER 

poetry, I feel that even a refined musical na- 
ture may find lifelong contentment in the 
piano — despite its limitations — ^if , as I said be- 
fore, the artist keeps within its boundaries and 
commands its possibilities. For it is, after all, 
not so very little that the piano has to offer. 
It is both governed and manipulated by one 
and the same mind and person; its mechanism 
is so fine and yet so simple as to make its tone 
response quite as direct as that of any other 
stringed instrument; it admits of the thor- 
oughly personal element of touch; it requires 
no auxiliary instruments (for even in the Con- 
certo the orchestra is not a mere accompanist 
but an equal partner, as the name " Concerto " 
implies) ; its limitations are not as bad as those 
of some other instruments or of the voice; it 
outweighs these limitations very fairly by the 
vast wealth of its dynamic and touch varieties. 
Considering all these and many other points of 
merit, I think that a musician may be pretty 
well satisfied with being a pianist. His realm 
is in more than one respect smaller than that 
of the conductor, to be sure, but on the other 
hand the conductor loses many lovely moments 

7 



PIANO PLAYING 

of sweet intimacy which are granted to the 
pianist when, world-obKvious and alone with 
his instrument he can commmie with his in- 
nermost and best self. Consecrated moments, 
these, which he would exchange with no musi- 
cian of any other type and which wealth can 
neither buy nor power compel. 

THE PIANO AND THE PLAYEE 

Music makers are, Uke the rest of mankind, 
not free from sin. On the whole, however, I 
think that the transgressions of pianists against 
the canons of art are less grave and less 
frequent than those of other music makers; 
perhaps, because they are — usually — better 
grounded as musicians than are singers and 
such players of other instruments as the public 
places on a par with the pianists I have in 
mind. But, while their sins may be less in nimi- 
ber and gravity — ^let it be well understood that 
the pianists are no saints. Alas, no ! It is rather 
strange, though, that their worst misdeeds are 
induced by that very virtue of the piano of re- 
quiring no auxiliary instruments, of being in- 
dependent. If it were not so; if the pianist 

8 



THE PIANO AND ITS PLAYER 

were compelled always to play in company 
with other musicians, these other players might 
at times differ with him as to conception, 
tempo, etc., and their views and wishes should 
have to be reckoned with, for the sake of both 
equilibrium and— sweet peace. 

Left entirely to himself, however, as the 
pianist usually is in his performances, he some- 
times yields to a tendency to move altogether 
too freely, to forget the deference due to the 
composition and its creator, and to allow his 
much-beloved " individuahty " to glitter with 
a false and presumptuous brightness. Such a 
pianist does not only fail in his mission as an 
interpreter but he also misjudges the possibili- 
ties of the piano. He will, for instance, try to 
produce six fortes when the piano has not 
more than three to give, all told, except at a 
sacrifice of its dignity and its specific charm. 

The extremest contrasts, the greatest forte 
and the finest piano , are given factors deter- 
mined by the individual piano, by the player's 
skill of touch, and by the acoustic properties of 
the hall. These given factors the pianist must 
bear in mind, as well as the limitations of the 

9 



PIANO PLAYING 

piano as to colour, if he means to keep clear 
of dilettanteism and charlatanry. A nice ap- 
preciation of the realm over which he rules, as 
to its boundaries and possibilities, must be the 
supreme endeavour of every sovereign — Whence 
also of every sovereign musician. 

Now, I hear it so often said of this and that 
pianist that " he plays with so much feeling " 
that I cannot help wondering if he does not, 
sometimes at least, play with ^^ so much feel- 
ing " where it is not in the least called for and 
where ^^ so much feeling " constitutes a decided 
trespass against the aesthetic boundaries of the 
composition. My apprehension is usually well 
founded, for the pianist that plays everything 
" with so much feeling " is an artist in name 
only, but in reality a sentimentalist, if not a 
vulgar sensationalist or a ranter upon the key- 
board. What sane pianist would, for instance, 
attempt to play a cantilena with the same ap- 
pealing sensuousness as the most mediocre 
'cellist can do with the greatest ease? Yet many 
pianists attempt it; but since they are fully 
aware that they can never attain such ends by 
legitimate, artistic means, they make either the 

10 



THE PIANO AND ITS PLAYER 

accompaniment or the rhythm, if not the 
phrasing, bear the brunt of their palpable dilet- 
tanteism. Of such illusory endeavours I cannot 
warn too strongly, for they are bound to de- 
stroy tiie organic relation of the melody to its 
auxiliaries and to change tiie musical "" physi- 
ognomy " of a piece into a—" grimace." This 
fault reveals that the pianist's spirit — of adven- 
ture — ^is too willing, but the flesh — of the fin- 
gers and their technic — ^too weak. 

The artistic and the dilettantic manners of 
expression must be sharply differentiated. 
They differ, principally, as follows: the artist 
knows and feels how fax ilie responsiveness of 
his instrument, at any particular part of his 
piece, will allow him to go without violating 
lesthetics, and without stepping outside of the 
nature of his instrument. He shapes his rendi- 
tion of the piece accordingly and practises wise 
economy in the use of force and in the display 
of feeling. As to feeling, per se, it is the ripe 
product of a multitude of aesthetic processes 
which the moment creates and develops; but 
the artist will keep this product from assert- 
ing itself until he has complied with every re- 

11 



PIANO PLAYING 

quirement of artistic workmanship; until he 
has, so to speak, provided a cleanly covered 
and fully set table upon which these matters of 
" feeling " appear as finishing, decorative 
touches, say, as flowers. 

The dilettante, on the other hand, does not 
consume any tiihe by thinking and planning; 
he simply " goes for " his piece and, without 
bothering about workmanship or squirming 
around it as best he may, he rambles off into 
— *' feeling," which in his case consists of 
naught but vague, formless, aimless, and purely 
sensuous sentimentality. His accompaniment 
drowns the melody, his rhythm goes on a sym- 
pathetic strike, dynamic and other artistic 
properties become hysterical; no matter, he — 
" feels " ! He builds a house in which the cellar 
is under the roof and the garret in the base- 
ment. 

Let it be said in extenuation of such a player 
that he is not always and seldom wholly to 
blame for his wrong-doing. Very often he strays 
from the path of musical rectitude because of 
his misplaced trust in the judgment of others, 
which causes him to accept and follow advice 

12 



I 



THE PIANO AND ITS PLAYER 

in good faith, instead of duly considering its 
source. For, under certain conditions, the ad- 
vice of even a connoisseur may be wrong. 
Many professional and well-equipped critics, 
for instance, fall into the bad habit of expect- 
ing that a pianist should tell all he knows in 
every piece he plays, whether the piano does or 
does not furnish the opportunities for display- 
ing all his qualities. They expect him to show 
strength, temperament, passion, poise, senti- 
ment, repose, depth, and so forth, in the first 
piece on his programme. He must tell his whole 
story, present himself at once as a " giant " or 
Titan " of the piano, though the piece may 
call for naught but tenderness. With this de- 
mand, or the alternative of a " roasting," pub- 
lic artists are confronted rather frequently. 
Nor is this, perhaps, as much the fault of the 
critic as of the conditions under which they 
must write. From my own experience and that 
of others I know that the critics in large cities 
are so overburdened with work during the sea- 
son that they have seldom time to listen to more 
than one piece out of a whole recital pro- 
gramme. After such a mere sample they form 

18 



PIANO PLAYING 

their opinions — so momentous for the career 
of a yomig pianist — ^and if this one piece hap- 
pened to offer no opportunities to the pianist 
to show himself as the "great" So-and-so, 
why, then he is simply put down as one of the 
"littlefellows/* It is no wonder that such con- 
ditions tempt many young aspirants to public 
renown to resort to esthetic violence in order 
to make sure of " good notices "; to use power 
where it is not called for; to make " feeling " 
ooze from every pore; to double, treble the 
tempo or vacillate it out of all rhythm ; to vio- 
late the boundaries of both the composition and 
the instrument— and aU this for no other pur- 
pose than to show as quickly as possible that 
the various qualities are " all there." These con- 
ditions produce what may be called the pianis- 
tic nouveau-riche or parvenu, who practises the 
vices of the dilettante without, however, the mit- 
igating excuse of ignorance or a lack of train- 
ing. 

THE PIANIST AND THE COMPOSFFION 

As the piano, so has also every composition 
its limitations as to the range of its emotions 

14 



THE PIANO AND ITS PLAYER 

and their artistic expression. The hints in this 
direction I threw out before may now be am- 
plified by discussing a very common error 
which underlies the matter of conception. It 
is the error of inferring the conception of a 
composition from the name of its composer \ 
of thinking that Beethoven has to be played 
thus and Chopin thus. No error could be 
greater! 

True, every great composer has his own 
style, his habitual mode of thought develop- 
ment, his personality revealing lines. But it is 
equally true that the imagination of all great 
composers was strong enough to absorb them 
as completely in their own creation as the late 
Pygmalion was absorbed in his Galatea, and 
to lure them, for the time being, completely 
away from their habits of thought and expres- 
sion; they become the willing servants of the 
new creature of their own fancy. Thus we find 
some of Beethoven's works as romantic and 
fanciful as any of Schumann's or Chopin's 
could be, while some of the latter's works show 
at times a good deal of Beethovenish classicity. 
It is, therefore, utterly wrong to approach 

15 



PIANO PLAYING 

every work of Beethoven with the preconceived 
idea that it must be " deep " and " majestic," 
or, if the work be Chopin's, that it must run 
over with sensuousness and " feeling." How 
would such a style of rendition do, for instance, 
for the Polonaise op. 58, or even for the little 
one in A, op. 40, No. 1 ? On the other hand, how 
would the stereotype, academic manner of play- 
ing Beethoven suit his Concerto in G — ^that 
poetic presage of Chopin? 

Every great master has written some works 
that are, and some that are not, typical of him- 
self. In the latter cases the master's identity 
reveals itself only to an eye that is experienced 
enough to detect it in the smaller, more minute 
traits of his style. Such delicate features, how- 
ever, must be left in their discreet nooks and 
niches ; they must not be clumsily dragged into 
the foreground for the sake of a traditional 
rendition of the piece. That sort of "rever- 
ence " is bound to obliterate all the peculiarities 
of the particular, non-typical composition. It 
is not reverence, but f etichism. Justice to the 
composer means justice to his works ; to every 
work in particular. And this justice we cannot 

16 



THE PIANO AND ITS PLAYER 

learn from the reading of his biography, but 
by regarding every one of his works as a sepa- 
rate and complete entity ; as a perfect, organic 
whole of which we must study the general char- 
acter, the special features, the form, the man- 
ner of design, the emotional course, and the 
trend of thought. Much more than by his biog- 
raphy we will be helped, in forming our con- 
ception, by comparing the work in hand with 
others of the same master, though the com- 
parison may disclose just as many diflferences 
of style as it may show similarities. 

The worship of names, the unquestioning 
acquiescence in traditional conceptions — ^those 
are not the principles which will lead an artist to 
come into his own. It is rather a close examina- 
tion of every popular notion, a severe testing 
of every tradition by the touchstone of self- 
thinking that will help an artist to find him- 
self and to see, what he does see, with his own 
eyes. 

Thus we find that — in a certain constructive 
meaning — even the reverence for the composer 
is not without boundaries ; though these bound- 
ary lines are drawn here only to secure the 

17 



PIANO PLAYING 

widest possible freedom for their work. 
Goethe's great word expresses most tersely 
what I mean: 

Outwardly limited. 
Boundless to inward. 



18 



GENERAL RULES 

SUCCESSFUL piano-playing, if it can- 
not be entirely acquired by some very 
simple rules, can, at least, be very much 
helped by what will seem to some as contribut- 
ing causes so slight as to be hardly worth no- 
tice. Still, they are immensely valuable, and I 
will endeavour to set down a few. 

The Value of the Morning Hour above any 
other time is not generally appreciated. The 
mental freshness gained from sleep is a tremen- 
dous help. I go so far as to say play away for 
an hour, or a half hour even, before breakfast. 
[But before you touch the piano let me suggest 
one very prosaic little hint : wash the keyboard 
as clean as you did your hands. Eating always 
tastes best from a clean table. Just so with the 
piano : you cannot do clean work on an unclean 
keyboard. 

N&vo, as to Practice: Let me suggest that 
you never practise more than an hour, or, at 

19 



PIANO PLAYING 

the most, two hours, at a stretch — ^according to 
your condition and strength. Then go out and 
take a walk, and think no more of music. This 
method of mental unhitching, so to speak, is 
absolutely necessary in order that the newly 
acquired results of your work may — ^uncon- 
sciously to yourself — ^mature in your mind and 
get, as it were, into your flesh and blood. That 
which you have newly learned must become 
affixed to your entire organism, very much Uke 
the picture on a photographic plate is devel- 
oped and affixed by the silver bath. If you al- 
low Nature no time for this work the result of 
your previous efforts will vanish and you will 
have to begin all over again with your — ^pho- 
tographing. Yes, photographing! For every 
acoustic or tone picture is, through the agency 
of the ear, photographed in the brain, and the 
whole occupation of the pianist consists in the 
reproduction of the previously received im- 
pressions through the fingers, which, with the 
help of the instrument, retranslate the pictures 
into audible tones. 

After every half hour make a pause until 
you feel rested. Five minutes will often be suf- 

20 




The Position of the Hand 



GENERAL RULES 

ficient. Follow the example of the painter, who 
closes his eyes for a few moments in order to 
obtain upon reopening them a fresh color im- 
pression. 

A Valuable Little Hint Here, if you will 
allow me: Watch well that you actually hear 
every tone you mean to produce. Every miss- 
ing tone will mean a blotch upon your photo- 
graphic plate in the brain. Each note must 
be, not mentally but physically, heard, and to 
this imperative requirement your speed must 
ever subordinate itself. It is not at all neces- 
sary to practise loudly in order to foster the 
permanence of impressions. Rather let an in- 
ward tension take the place of external force. 
It will engage, sympathetically, your hearing 
just as well. 

As to the Theory — great energy, great re- 
sults — I prefer my amended version : great en- 
ergy, restrained power and moderate manifes- 
tation of it. Prepare the finger for great force, 
imagine the tone as being strong, and yet strike 
moderately. Continuous loud playing makes 
our playing coarse. On the other hand, contin- 
uous soft playing will blur the tone picture in 

21 



PIANO PLAYING 

our mind and cause us soon to play insecurely 
and wrongly. From time to time we should, of 
course, practise loudly so as to develop phys- 
ical endurance. But for the greater part of 
practice I recommend playing with restrained 
power. And, incidentally, your neighbours will 
thank you for it, too. 

Do Not Practise Systematically^ or "me- 
thodically,"' as it is sometimes called. Systema- 
tism is the death of spontaneousness, and spon- 
taneousness is the very soul of art. If you play 
every day at the same time the same sequence 
of the same studies and the same pieces, you 
may acquire a certam degree of skiU, perhaps, 
but the spontaneity of your rendition will 
surely be lost. Art belongs to the realm of emo- 
tional manifestations, and it stands to reason 
that a systematic exploiting of our emotional 
nature must blunt it. 

With Regard to Finger Ewerdses: Do not 
let them be too frequent or too long — at the 
most a half hour a day. A half hour daily, kept 
up for a year, is enough for any one to learn 
to play one's exercises. And if one can play 
them why should one keep everlastingly on 

22 



GENERAL RULES 

playing them? Can anybody explain, without 
reflecting upon one's sanity, why one should 
persist in playing them? I suggest to use these 
exercises as " preliminary warmers '' (as prac- 
tised in engines). As soon as the hands have 
become warm and elastic, or pliable — " played 
in," as we pianists say-^p the exercises and 
repeat them for the same purpose the next 
morning, if you will. They can be successfully 
substituted, however. As compositions they are 
but lukewarm water. If you will dip your 
hands, instead, for five minutes into hot water 
you will follow my own method and find it just 
as efficacious. 

A Rule for Memory Exercises: If you wish 
to strengthen the receptivity and retentiveness 
of your memory you will find the following 
plan practical: Start with a short piece. Ana- 
lyse the form and manner of its texture. Play 
the piece a number of times very exactly with 
the music before you. Then stop plajong for 
several hoiu^s and try to trace the course of 
ideas mentally in the piece. Try to hear the 
piece inwardly. If you have retained some 
parts refill the missing places by repeated read- 

28 



PIANO PLAYING 

ing of the piece, away from the piano. When 
next you go to the piano — ^af ter several hours, 
remember — ^try to play the piece. Should you 
still get " stuck " at a certain place take the 
sheet music, but play only that place (several 
times, if necessary), and then begin the piece 
over again, as a test, if you have better luck 
this time with those elusive places. If you still 
fail resiune your silent reading of the piece 
away from the piano. Under no circumstances 
skip the unsafe place for the time being, and 
proceed with the rest of the piece. By such 
forcing of the memory you lose the logical de- 
velopment of your piece, tangle up your mem- 
ory and injure its receptivity. Another obser- 
vation in connection with memorising may find 
a place here. When we study a piece we — ^un- 
consciously — ^associate in our mind a multitude 
of things with it which bear not the slightest 
relation upon it. By these " things " I mean 
not only the action of the piano, light or heavy, 
as it may be, but also the colour of its wood, the 
colour of the wall paper, discoloration of the 
ivory on some key of the piano, the pictures on 
the walls, the angle at which the piano stands 

24 



GENERAL RULES 

to the architectural lines of the room, in short, 
all sorts of things. And we remain utterly un- 
conscious of having associated them with the 
piece we are studying — ^until we try to play the 
well-learned piece in a different place, in the 
house of a friend or, if we are inexperienced 
enough to commit such a blunder, in the con- 
cert hall. Then we find that our memory fails 
us most unexpectedly, and we blame our mem- 
ory for its imreliableness. But the fact is rather 
that our memory was only too good, too exact, 
for the absence of or difference from our accus- 
tomed surroundings disturbed our too precise 
memory. Hence, to make absolutely sure of 
our memory we should try our piece in a num- 
ber of different places before relying upon our 
memory; this will dissociate the wonted envi- 
ronment from the piece in our memory. 

With Regard to Technical Work: Play 
good compositions and construe out of them 
your own technical exercises. In nearly every 
piece you play you will find a place or two of 
which your conscience tells you that they are 
not up to your own wishes ; that they can be im- 
proved upon either from a rhythmical, dynam- 

25 



PIANO PLAYING 

ical or precisional point of view. Give these 
places the preference for a while, but do not 
fail to play from time to time again the whole 
piece in order to put the erstwhile defective and 
now repaired part into proper relation to its 
context. Remember that a difficult part may 
" go " pretty well when severed from its con- 
text and yet fail utterly when attempted in its 
proper place. You must follow the mechanic in 
this. If a part of a machine is perfected in the 
shop it must still go through the process of 
being " mounted "-that is, being brought into 
proper relation to the machine itself — ^and this 
often requires additional packing or filing, as 
the case may be. This " moimting " of a re- 
paired part is done best by playing it in con- 
junction with one preceding and one following 
measure; then put two measures on each side, 
three, four, etc., until you feel your ground 
safely under your fingers. Not until then have 
you achieved yoiu* purpose of technical prac- 
tice. The mere mastering of a difficulty per se 
is no guarantee of success whatever. Many stu- 
dents play certain compositions for years, and 
yet when they are asked to play them the evi- 

26 



GENERAL RULES 

dences of imperfection are so palpable that 
they cannot have finished the learning of them- 
The strong probability is that they never will 
finish the " study " of them, because they do 
not study right. 

As to the Number of Pieces: The larger 
the number of good compositions you are able 
to play in a finished manner, the better grow 
yoiu* opportunities to develop yoiu* versatility 
of style ; for in almost every good composition 
you will find some traits peculiar to itself only 
which demand an equally special treatment. 
To keep ss many pieces as possible in your 
memory and in good technical condition, play 
them a few times each week. Do not play them, 
however, in consecutive repetitions. Take one 
after the other. After the last piece is played 
the first one wiU appear fresh again to your 
mind. This process I have tested and found 
very helpful in maintaining a large repertory. 

Play Always with the Fingers — ^that is, 
move your arms as little as possible and hold 
them — and the shoulder muscles — quite loosely. 
The hands should be nearly horizontal, with a 
slight inclination from the elbows toward the 

27 



PIANO PLAYING 

keys. Bend the fingers gently and endeavour 
to touch the keys in their centre and with the 
tips of the fingers. This wiU tend toward sure- 
ness and give eyes to your fingers, so to speak. 

The Prdctice of Finger Octaves: Play oc- 
taves first as if you were playing single notes 
with one finger of each hand. Lift the thumb 
and fifth finger rather high and let them fall 
upon the keys without using the wrist. Later 
let the wrist come to yoiu* aid, sometimes even 
the arm and shoulder muscles, though the latter 
should both be reserved for places requiring 
great power. 

Where powerful octaves occur in long con- 
tinuation it is best to distribute the work over 
the joints and muscles of the fingers, wrists, 
and shoulders. With a rational distribution 
each of the joints will avoid over-fatigue and 
the player will gain in endurance. This applies, 
of course, only to bravm^a passages. In places 
where musical characteristics predominate the 
player does best to choose whichever of these 
sources of touch seems most appropriate. 

About Using the Pedal: Beware of too fre- 
quent and — ^above all — of long-continued use 

28 



GENERAL RULES 

of the pedal. It is the mortal enemy of clarity. 
Judiciously, however, you should use it when 
you study a new work, for if you accustom 
yourself to play a work without the pedal the 
habit of non-pedalling will grow upon you, 
and you will be surprised to find later how your 
feet can be in the way of your fingers. Do not 
delay the use of the pedal as if it were the des- 
sert after a repast. 

Never Play with a Metronome: You may 
use a metronome for a little passage as a test 
of your ability to play the passage in strict 
time. When you see the result, positive or neg- 
ative, stop the machine at once. For according 
to the metronome a really musical rhythm is 
unrhythmical — and, on the other hand, the 
keeping of absolutely strict time is thoroughly 
unmusical and deadlike. 

You should endeavour to reproduce the sum- 
total of the time which a musical thought occu- 
pies. Within its scope, however, you must vary 
your beats in accordance with their musical sig- 
nificance. This constitutes in musical interpre- 
tation what I call the individual pulse-beat 
which imparts life to the dead, black notes. 

29 



PIANO PLAYING 

Beware, however, of being too " individual " I 
Avoid exaggeration, or else your pati^it will 
grow feverish and aU «sthetic interpretation 
goes to the happy hunting grounds! 

The Correct Posture at the Piano: Sit 
straight before the piano but not stiflF. Have 
both feet upon the pedals, so as to be at any 
moment ready to use them. All other manners 
to keep the feet are — ^bad manners. Let your 
hand fall with the arm upon the keyboard when 
you start a phrase, and observe a certain round- 
ness in all the motions of your arms and hands. 
Avoid angles and sharp bends, for they pro- 
duce strong frictions in the joints, which means 
a waste of force and is bound to cause prema- 
ture fatigue. 

Do Not Attend Poor Concerts. Do not be- 
lieve that you can learn correct vision from the 
blind, nor that you can really profit by hearing 
how a piece should not be played, and then try- 
ing the reverse. The danger of getting accus- 
tomed to poor playing is very great. What 
would you think of a parent who deliberately 
sent his child into bad company in order that 
such child should learn how not to behave? 

80 



GENERAL RULES 

Such experiments are dangerous. By attend- 
ing poor concerts you encoiu-age the bungler 
to continue in his crimes against good taste and 
artistic decency, and you become his accom- 
plice. Besides, you help to lower the standard 
of appreciation in your community, which may 
sink so low that good concerts will cease to be 
patronised. If you desire that good concerts 
should be given in your city the least you can 
do is to withhold your patronage from bad 
ones. If you are doubtful as to the merits of a 
proposed concert ask your own or yoiu* chil- 
dren's music teacher. He will appreciate your 
confidence and be glad of the opportimity to 
serve you for once in a musical matter that lies 
on a higher plane than yoiu* own or your chil- 
dren's music lesson. 

To Those Who Play in Public I should like 
to say this: Before you have played a compo- 
sition in public two or three times you must 
not expect that every detail of it shall go ac- 
cording to yoiu* wishes. Do not be surprised 
at little unexpected occurrences. Consider that 
the acoustic properties of the various halls con- 
stitute a serious danger to the musician. Bad 

81 



PIANO PLAYING 

humor on your part, or a slight indisposition, 
even a clamlike audience. Puritanically austere 
or cool from diffidence — all these things can be 
overcome; but the acoustic properties remain 
the same from the beginning of your pro- 
gramme to its end, and if they are not a kindly 
counsellor they turn into a fiendish demon who 
sneers to death yoiu* every eflFort to produce 
noble-toned pictures. Therefore, try to ascer- 
tain, as early as possible, what sort of an archi- 
tectural stomach your musical feast is to fill, 
and then — ^well, do the best you can. Approach 
the picture you hold in yoiu* mind as nearly as 
circumstances permit. 

When I Find Bad Acoustics in a Hall. An 
important medium of rectifying the acoustic 
misbehavioiu* of a hall I have found in the 
pedal. In some halls my piano has sounded as 
if I had planted my feet on the pedal for good 
and ever; in such cases I practised the greatest 
abstention from pedalling. It is a fact that we 
have to treat the pedal differently in almost 
every hall to insure the same results. I know 
that a number of books have been written on 
the use of the pedal, but they are theories which 

82 



GENERAL RULES 

tumble down before the first adverse experience 
on the legitimate concert stage. There you can 
lean on nothing but experience. 

About Reading Books on Mime. And 
speaking of books on music, let me advise you 
to read them, but not to believe them unless 
they support every statement with an argu- 
ment, and unless this argument succeeds in 
convincing you. In art we deal far of tener with 
exceptions than with rules and laws. Every 
genius in art has demonstrated in his works the 
f oref eeling of new laws, and every succeeding 
one has done by his precursors as his successors 
have in their turn done by him. Hence all the- 
orising in art must be problematic and preca- 
rious, whUe dogmatising in art amounts to ab- 
surdity. Music is a language — ^the language of 
the musical, whatever and wherever be their 
country. Let each one, then, speak in his own 
way, as he thinks and feels, provided he is sin- 
cere. Tolstoi put the whole thing so well when 
he said : " There are only three things of real 
importance in the world. They are: Sincerity I 
Sincerity ! Sincerity ! " 



CORRECT TOUCH AND TECHNIC 

GREAT finger technic may be defined 
as extreme precision and great speed 
in the action of the fingers. The lat- 
ter quality, however, can never be developed 
without the legato touch. I am convinced that 
the degree of perfection of finger technic is 
exactly proportionate to the development of 
the legato touch. The process of the non-legato 
touch, by showing contrary results, will bear 
me out. To play a rapid run non-legato will 
consume much more time than to play it legato 
because of the lifting of the fingers between 
the tones. In playing legato the fingers are not 
lifted ojff the keys, but — ^hardly losing contact 
with the ivory — glide sideways to the right or 
the left as the notes may call for it. This, natu- 
rally, saves both time and exertion, and thus 
allows an increase of speed. 

How is the true legato accomplished? By 
the gUding motion just mentioned, and by 

84 



CORRECT TOUCH 

touching the next following key before the fin- 
ger which played last has fully abandoned its 
key. To illustrate, let me say that in a run of 
single notes two fingers are simultaneously at 
work — ^the " played " and the " playing '* one; 
in runs of double notes (thirds, sixths, etc.) the 
number of simultaneously employed fingers is, 
analogously, f otu*. Only in this manner is a true 
legato touch to be attained. While the fingers 
are in action the hand must not move lest it 
produce gaps between the succeeding tones, 
causing not only a breaking of the connection 
between them but also a lessening of speed. 
The transfer of the hand should take place only 
when the finger is already in touch with the 
key that is to follow — ^not at the time of con- 
tact, still less before. 

The selection of a practical fingering is, of 
course, of paramount hnportance for a good 
legato touch. In attempting a run without a 
good fingering we will soon find ourselves " out 
of fingers." In that emergency we should have 
to resort to " piecing on," and this means a jerk 
at every instance — equal to a non-legato. A 
correct fingering is one which permits the long- 

85 



PIANO PLAYING 

est natural sequel of fingers to be used with- 
out a break. By earnest thinking every player 
can contrive the fingering that will prove most 
convenient to him. But, admitting that the 
great diversity of hands prohibits a universal 
fingering, all the varieties of fingering ought 
to be based upon the principle of a natural se- 
quel. If a player be puzzled by certain configu- 
rations of notes and keys as to the best finger- 
ing for them, he ought to consult a teacher, 
who, if a good one, will gladly help him out. 

Precision, the other component part of fin- 
ger technic, is intimately related with the 
player's general sense of orderliness. As a mat- 
ter of fact, precision is orderliness in the tech- 
nical execution of a musical prescription. If the 
student will but look quite closely at the piece 
he is learning; if he has the patience to repeat 
a difficult place in it a hundred times if neces- 
sary — and correctly, of course — ^he will soon 
acquire the trait of precision and he will ex- 
perience the resultant increase in his technical 
ability. 

Mental technic presupposes the ability to 
form a clear inward conception of a run with- 

86 



CORRECT TOUCH 

out resorting to the fingers at all. Since every 
action of a finger has first to he determined 
upon hy the mind, a run should be completely 
prepared mentally before it is tried on the 
piano. In other words, the student should strive 
to acquire the ability to form the tonal picture 
in his mind, rather than the note picture. 

The tonal picture dwells in our imagination. 
This acts upon the responsive portions of the 
brain, influences them according to its own in- 
tensity, and this influence is then transferred 
to the motoric nerve-centres which are con- 
cerned in music-making. As far as known this 
is the course by which the musician converts his 
musical concept into a tonal reality. Hence, 
when studying a new work, it is imperative that 
a tonal picture of perfect clarity should be pre- 
pared in the mind before the mechanical (or 
technical) practicing begins. In the earlier 
stages of cultivating this trait it will be best 
to ask the teacher to play the piece for us, and 
thus to help us in forming a correct tonal pic- 
ture in our mind. 

The blurring of the tonal picture produces 
a temporary (don't get frightened!) paral- 

87 



PIANO PLAYING 

ysis of the motoric centres which control the 
fingers. Every pianist knows — ^unfortunately 
— ^the sensation of having his fingers begin to 
" stick " as if the keys were covered with fly- 
paper, and he knows, also, that this sensation 
is but a warning that the fingers are going on 
a general and even " sympathetic " strike — 
sympathetic, because even the momentarily un- 
concerned fingers participate in it. Now the 
cause of this sensation Ues not in a defective 
action of the fingers themselves, but solely in 
the mind. It is there that some undesired 
change has taken place, a change which im- 
pairs the action of the fingers. The process is 
like this: by quick repetitions of complicated 
figures, slight errors, slips, flaws escape our 
notice ; the more quick repetitions we make the 
larger will be the number of these tiny blots, 
and this must needs lead finally to a com- 
pletely distorted tonal picture. This distortion, 
however, is not the worst feature. Inasmuch as 
we are very likely not to make the same little 
blunders at every repetition the tonal picture 
becomes confused, blurred. The nerve contacts 
which cause the fingers to act become unde- 

88 



CORRECT TOUCH 

cided first, then they begin to fail more and 
more, until they cease altogether and the fin- 
gers — stick 1 At such a juncture the student 
should at once resort to slow practice. He 
should play the defective place clearly, orderly, 
and, above all, slowly, and persist in this course 
until the number of correct repetitions proves 
sufficient to crowd the confused tonal picture 
out of the mind. This is not to be regarded as 
mechanical practice, for it is intended for the 
rehabilitation of a disarranged or disturbed 
mental concept. I trust this will speak for the 
practice of what I called "mental technic." 
Make the mental tonal picture sharp; the fin- 
gers must and will obey it. 

We are sometimes affected by "thought- 
laziness " — I translate this word literally from 
other languages, because it is a good com- 
poimd for which I can find no better equivalent 
in English. Whenever we find the fingers go- 
ing astray in the piece we play we might as 
well admit to ourselves that the trouble is in 
the main office. The mysterious controlling of- 
ficer has been talking with a friend instead of 
attending to business. The mind was not keep- 

89 



PIANO PLAYING 

ing step with the fingers. We have relied on 
our automatism ; we allowed the fingers to run 
on and the mind lagged behind, instead of be- 
ingy as it should be, ahead of the fingers, pre- 
paring their work. 

Quick musical thinking, the importance of 
which is thus apparent, cannot be developed by 
any direct cotirse. It is one of the by-products 
of the general widening of one's musical hori- 
zon. It is ever proportionate to the growth of 
one's other musical faculties. It is the result of 
elasticity of the mind acquired or developed by 
constant, never-failing, unremitting employ- 
ment whenever we are at the piano. A proce- 
dure tending directly toward developing quick 
musical thinking is, therefore, not necessary. 

The musical will has its roots in the natural 
craving for musical utterance. It is the direc- 
tor-in-chief of all that is musical in us. Hence 
I recognise in the purely technical processes of 
piano-plajring no less a manifestation of the 
musical wiU. But a technic without a musical 
will is a faculty without a purpose, and when 
it becomes a piurpose in itself it can never serve 
art 

40 



THE USE OF THE PEDAL 

TO speak in a concrete manner of the 
pedal is possible only on the basis of a 
complete understanding of the funda- 
mental principle underlying its use. The reader 
must agree to the governing theory that the 
organ which governs the employment of the 
pedal is — ^the ear! As the eye guides the fingers 
when we read music, so must the ear be the 
guide — ^and the "sole" guide — of the foot 
upon the pedal. The foot is merely the servant, 
the executive agent, while the ear is the guide, 
the judge, and the final criterion. If there is 
any phase in piano-playing where we should 
remember particularly that music is for the 
ear it is in the treatment of the pedal. Hence, 
whatever is said here in the following lines 
with regard to the pedal must be imderstood 
as resting upon the basis of this principle. 

As a general rule I reconmiend pressing the 
lever or treadle down with a quick, definite, 
full motion and always immediately after — 

41 



PIANO PLAYING 

mark me, after — ^the striking of the keys, never 
simultaneously with the stroke of the fingers, 
as so many erroneously assume and do. To pre- 
vent a cacophonous mixture of tones we should 
consider that we must stop the old tone before 
we can give pedal to the new one, and that, in 
order to make the stopping of the past tone per- 
fect, we must allow the damper to press upon 
the vibrating strings long enough to do its 
work. If, however, we tread down exactly with 
the finger-stroke we simply inhibit this stop- 
ping, because the damper in question is lifted 
again before it has had time to fall down. (In 
speaking of the dampers as moving up and 
down I have in mind the action of the 
" grand " piano; in the upright piano the word 
" off " must be substituted for " up," and "on" 
for " down.") This rule will work in a vast ma- 
jority of cases, but like every rule — especially 
in art— it wiU be found to admit of many ex- 
ceptions. 

Harmonic Clarity in Pedalling is the Baais^ 
but it is only the basis; it is not all that con- 
stitutes an artistic treatment of the pedaL In 
spite of what I have just said above there are 

42 




J'iMefra/Ji Ab Rym* 



Incorrect Position of the Feet 




Correct Position of the Feet i 



THE USE OF THE PEDAL 

in many pieces moments where a blending of 
tones, seemingly foreign to one another, is a 
means of characterisation. This blending is es- 
pecially permissible when the passing (for- 
eign) tones are more than one octave removed 
from the lowest tone and from the harmony 
built upon it. In this connection it should be re- 
membered that the pedal is not merely a means 
of tone prolongation but also a means of col- 
ouring—and pre-eminently that. What is gen- 
erally understood by the term piano-charm is 
to the greatest extent produced by an artistic 
use of the pedal. 

For instance, great accent effects can be 
produced by the gradual accumulating of tone- 
volume through the pedal and its sudden re- 
lease on the accented point. The effect is some- 
what like that which we hear in the orchestra 
when a crescendo is supported by a roll of the 
drum or tjmnipani making the last tap on the 
accented point. And, as I am mentioning the 
orchestra, I may illustrate by the French horns 
another use of the pedal: where the horns do 
not carry the melody (which they do relatively 
seldom) they are employed to support sus- 

48 



PIANO PLAYING 

tained harmonies, and their effect is like a glaz- 
ing, a binding, a unifying of the various tone- 
colours of the other instruments. Just such a 
glazing is produced by the judicious use of the 
pedal, and when, in the orchestra, the horns 
cease and the strings proceed alone there en- 
sues a certain soberness of tone which we pro- 
duce in the piano by the release and non-use of 
the pedal. In the former instance, while the 
horns were active they furnished the harmonic 
background upon which the thematic develop- 
ment of the musical picture proceeded; in the 
latter case, when the horns cease the back- 
ground is taken away and the thematic con- 
figurations stand out— so to speak— against 
the sky. Hence, the pedal gives to the piano 
tone that unifying, glazing, that finish — 
though this is not exactly the word here — 
which the horns or softly played trombones 
give to the orchestra. 

But the Pedal Can Do More Than That. At 
times we can produce strange, glasslike effects 
by purposely mixing non-harmonic tones. I 
only need to hint at some of the fine, embroid- 
ery-like cadenzas in Chopin's works, like the 

44 



THE USE OF THE PEDAL 

one in his E-minor Concerto (Andante, meas- 
ures 101, 102, and 108). Such blendings are 
productive of a multitude of effects, especially 
when we add the agency of dynamic grada- 
tion: effects suggestive of winds from Zephyr 
to Boreas, of the splash and roar of waves, of 
foimtain-play, of rustling leaves, etc. This 
mode of blending can be extended also to en- 
tire harmonies in many cases where one funda- 
mental chord is to predominate for some time 
while other chords may pass in quicker suc- 
cession while it lasts. In such cases it is by no 
means imperative to abandon the pedal; we 
need only to establish various dynamic levels 
and place the ruling harmony on a higher 
level than the passing ones. In other words, the 
predominating chord must receive so much 
force that it can outlast all those briefer ones 
which, though audible, must die of their own 
weakness, and while the strong, ruling chord 
was constantly disturbed by the weaker ones 
it also re-established its supremacy with the 
death of every weaker one which it outlasted. 
This use of the pedal has its limitations in the 
evanescent nature of the tone of the piano. 

45 



PIANO PLAYING 

That moment when the blending of non-har- 
monic tones imperils the tonal beauty of the 
piece in hand can be detennined solely and ex- 
clusively by the player's own ear, and here we 
are once more at the point from which this ar- 
ticle started, namely : that the ear is governor, 
and that it alone can decide whether or not 
there is to be any pedal. 

It were absurd to assume that we can greatly 
please the ear of others by our playing so long 
as our own ear is not completely satisfied. We 
should, therefore, endeavour to train the sus- 
ceptibility of our ear, and we should ever make 
it more difficult to gain the assent of our own 
ear than to gain that of our auditors. They 
may, apparently, not notice defects in your 
playing, but at this juncture I wish to say a 
word of serious warning: Do not confound un- 
mindfulness with consent! To hear ourselves 
play — ^that is, to listen to our own playing — 
is the bed-rock basis of all music-making and 
also, of course, of the technic of the pedal. 
Therefore, listen carefully, attentively to the 
tones you produce. When you employ the 
pedal as a prolongation of the fingers (to sus- 

46 



THE USE OF THE PEDAL 

tain tones beyond the reach of the fingers) , see 
to it that you catch, and hold, the fundamental 
tone of your chord, for this tone must be al- 
ways your chief consideration. 

Whether You Use the Pedal as a Means of 
Mere Prolongation or as a medium of colour- 
ing, under no circumstances use it as a cloak 
for imperfection of execution. For, like charity, 
it is apt to be made to cover a multitude of 
sins; but, again like charity, who wants to 
make himself dependent upon it, when honest 
work can prevent it? 

Nor should the pedal be used to make up for 
a deficiency of force. To produce a forte is the 
business of the fingers (with or without the aid 
of the arm) but not of the pedal, and this holds 
true also — mutatis mutandis — of the left pedal, 
for which the Germans use a word ( Verschie- 
bung) denoting something like "shifting." 
In a " grand " piano the treading of the left 
pedal shifts the hammers so far to one side that 
instead of striking three strings they will strike 
only two. (In the pianos of fifty and more 
years ago there were only two strings to each 
tone, and when the hammers were shifted by 

47 



PIANO PLAYING 

the treading of the left pedal they struck only 
one string. From those days we have retained 
the term '' tma corda ** — one string. ) In an up- 
right piano the lessening of tone-volume is pro- 
duced by a lessening of the momentum of the 
hammer stroke. 

Now» as the right pedal should not be used 
to cover a lack of force, so should the left pedal 
not be regarded as a licence to neglect the for- 
mation of a fine piaimsimo touch. It should 
not cloak or screen a defective pianissimo^ but 
should serve exclusively as a means of colour- 
ing where the softness of tone is coupled with 
what the jewellers call " dull finish." For the 
left pedal does not soften the tone without 
changing its character; it lessens the quantity 
of tone but at the same time it also markedly 
affects the quality. 

To Sum Up: Train your ear and then use 
both pedals honestly! Use them for what they 
were made. Remember that even screens are 
not used for hiding things behind them, but 
for decorative purposes or for protection. 
Those who do use them for hiding something 
must have something which they prefer to hide 1 

48 



\ 



PLAYING "IN STYLE 



» 



BY playing a piece of music " in style '' is 
understood a rendition which does ab- 
solute justice to its contents in regard 
to the manner of expression. Now, the true 
manner of expression must be sought and 
found for each piece individually, even though 
a nimaber of different pieces may be written by 
one and the same composer. Our first endeav- 
our should be to search out the peculiarity of 
the piece in hand rather than that of the com- 
poser in general. If you have succeeded in 
playing one work by Chopin in style, it does 
not follow, by any means, that you can play 
equally well any other work from his pen. 
Though on general lines his manner of writing 
may be the same in all his works, there will, 
nevertheless, be marked differences between 
the various pieces. 

Only by careful study of each work by itself 
can we find the key to its correct conception 

49 



PIANO PLAYING 

and rendition. We will never find it in books 
about the composer, nor in such as treat of his 
works, but only in the works themselves and 
in each one per se. People who study a lot of 
things about a work of art may possibly enrich 
their general knowledge, but they never can 
get that specific knowledge needful for the in- 
terpretation of the particular work in hand. 
Its own contents alone can furnish that knowl- 
edge. We know from frequent experience that 
book-learned musicians (or, as they are now 
called, musicologists) usually read everything 
in sight, and yet their playing rises hardly ever 
above mediocre dilettanteism. 

Why should we look for a correct conception 
of a piece anywhere but in the piece itself? 
Surely the composer has embodied in the piece 
all he knew and felt when he wrote it. Why, 
then, not listen to his specific language instead 
of losing our way in the terms of another art? 
Literatiu^e is literature, and music is music. 
They may combine, as in song, but one can 
never be substituted for the other. 

Many Students Never Learn to understand 
a composer's specific language because their 

50 



PLAYING "IN STYLE" 

sole concern is to make the piece " effective " in 
the sense of a clever stunt. This tendency is 
most deplorable; for there really does exist a 
specifically musical language. By purely mate- 
rial means : through notes, pauses, dynamic and 
other signs, through special annotations, etc., 
the composer encloses in his work the whole 
world of his imagination. The duty of the in- 
terpretative artist is to extract from these ma- 
terial things the spiritual essence and to trans- 
mit it to his hearers. To achieve this he must 
understand this musical language in general 
and of each composition in particular. 

But — ^how is this language to be learned? 

By conning with careful attentiveness — ^and, 
of course, absorbing — ^the purely material mat- 
ter of a piece: the notes, pauses, time values, 
dynamic indications, etc. 

If a player be scrupulously exact in his mere 
reading of a piece it will, of itself, lead him to 
understand a goodly portion of the piece's 
specific language. Nay, more! Through a 
really correct conning the player is enabled to 
determine upon the points of repose as well 
as upon the matter of climax, and thus to cre- 

51 



PIANO PLAYING 

ate a bam for the opentioiis of his own imag- 
inatioiu After tiiat, notiiiiig^ remams bat to call 
f orA into tonal lif e, tfarougfa the fingers, what 
hi« musical intelligeiice has gtasped-which 
is a purely tedinical task. To transform the 
purely technical and material processes into a 
tiling tiiat lives, of course, rests with the natu- 
ral, emotional, temperamental endowments of 
the individual; it rests with those many and 
complex qualities which are usually summa- 
rised by the term '^ talent,'' but this must be 
presupposed witii a player who aspires to ar- 
tistic work. 

On the other hand, talent alone cannot lift 
the veil that hides the spiritual content of a 
composition if its possessor neglects to examine 
the latter carefully as to its purely material in- 
gredients. He may flatter the ear, sensuously 
speaking, but he can never play the piece in 
style. 

Now How Can We Know whether we are 
or are not approaching the spiritual phase of 
a piece? By repetition under unremitting at- 
tention to the written values. If, then, you 
should find how much there is still left for you 

52 



PLAYING "IN STYLE'' 

to do, you have proved to yourself that you 
have understood the piece spiritually and are 
on the right track to master it. With every 
repetition you will discover some hitherto un- 
noticed defect in your interpretation. Obviate 
these defects, one by one, and in so doing you 
will come nearer and nearer to the spiritual es- 
sence of the work in hand. 

As to the remaining " purely technical task " 
(as I said before), it must not be underesti- 
mated! To transmit one's matiu-ed conception 
to one's auditors requires a considerable degree 
of mechanical skill, and this skill, in its turn, 
must be under absolute control of the will. Of 
course — ^after the foregoing — ^this does not 
mean that everybody who has a good and 
well-controlled technic can interpret a piece 
in style. Remember that to possess wealth 
is one thing, to put it to good use is quite 
another. 

It is sometimes said that the too objective 
study of a piece may impair the " individual- 
ity '' of its rendition. Have no fear of that! If 
ten players study the same piece with the same 
high degree of exactness and objectivity — de- 

58 



PIANO PLAYING 

pend upon it: each one will still play it quite 
differently from the nine others, though each 
one may think his rendition the only correct 
one. For each one will express what, according 
to his lights, he has mentally and temperamen- 
tally absorbed. Of the distinctive f eatiu^e which 
constitutes the difference in the ten conceptions 
each one will have been unconscious while it 
formed itself, and perhaps also afterward. But 
it is just this unconsciously formed feature 
which constitutes legitimate individuaUty and 
which alone will admit of a real fusion of the 
composer's and the interpreter's thought. A 
purposed, blatant parading of the player's 
dear self through wilful additions of nuances, 
shadings, effects, and what not, is tantamount 
to a falsification ; at best it is " playing to the 
galleries," charlatanism. The player should al- 
ways feel convinced that he plays only what is 
written. To the auditor, who with his own and 
different intelligence follows the player's per- 
formance, the piece will appear in the light of 
the player's individuality. The stronger this is 
the more it will colour the performance, when 
unconsciously admixed. 

54 



PLAYING "IN STYLE" 

Rubinstein Often Said to Me: " Just play 
first exactly what is written; if you have done 
full justice to it and then still feel like adding 
or changing anything, why, do so." Mind well: 
after you have done full justice to what is writ- 
ten I How few are those who fulfil this duty I 
I venture to prove to any one who will play for 
me — ^if he be at all worth listening to — ^that he 
does not play more than is written (as he may 
think), but, in fact, a good deal less than the 
printed page reveals. And this is one of the 
principal causes of misunderstandinsr the eso- 
Lc ^rtion. the inherent " style " of . piec<^ 
a misimderstanding which is not always con- 
fined to amateurs — ^inexact reading! 

The true interpretation of a piece of music 
results from a correct understanding of it, and 
this, in turn, depends solely upon scrupulously 
exact reading. 

Learn the Language of Music ^ then, I re- 
peat, through exact reading! You will then 
soon fathom the musical meaning of a compo- 
sition and transmit it intelligibly to your lis- 
teners. Would you satisfy your curiosity as to 
what manner of person the author is or was at 

55 



PIANO PLAYING 

the time of writing, you may do so. But — ^as 
I said in the " Foreword " — ^your chief interest 
should centre in the " composition," not in the 
" composer," for only by studying his work 
will you be enabled to play it in style. 



56 



K 






^.jZ-Jy^'^^i-^ 



Anton Rubinstein 



HOW RUBINSTEIN TAUGHT 
ME TO PLAY 

OUTSIDE of the regular students of 
the Imperial Conservatory of Music at 
St. Petersburg, Rubinstein accepted 
but one pupil. The advantage and privilege to 
be that one pupil was mine. 

I came to Rubinstein when I was sixteen 
years old and left him at eighteen. Since that 
time I have studied only by myself; for to 
whom could I have gone after Rubinstein ? His 
very manner of teaching was such that it would 
have made any other teacher appear to me like 
a schoolmaster. He chose the method of indi- 
rect instruction through suggestive compari- 
sons. He touched upon the strictly musical only 
upon rare occasions. In this way he wished to 
awaken within me the concretely musical as a 
parallel of his generalisations and thereby pre- 
serve my musical individuality. 

He never played for me. He only talked, 

67 



PIANO PLAYING 

and I, understanding him, translated his mean- 
ing into music and musical utterances. Some- 
times, for instance, when I played the same 
phrase twice in succession, and played it both 
times alike (say in a sequence), he would say: 
" In fine weather you may play it as you did, 
but when it rains play it differently," 

Rubinstein was much given to whims and 
moods, and he often grew enthusiastic about a 
certain conception only to prefer a different 
one the next day. Yet he was always logical in 
his art, and though he aimed at hitting the nail 
from various points of view he always hit it 
on the head. Thus he never permittied me to 
bring to him, as a lesson, any composition more 
than once. He explained this to me once by 
saying that he might forget in the next lesson 
what he told me in the previous one, and by 
drawing an entirely new picture only confuse 
my mind. Nor did he ever permit me to bring 
one of his own works, though he never ex- 
plained to me his reason for this singular at- 
titude. 

Usually, when I came to him, arriving from 
Berlin, where I lived, I foimd him seated at 

58 



HOW RUBINSTEIN TAUGHT 

his writing-desk, smoking Russian cigarettes. 
He lived at the Hotel de TEurope. After a 
kindly salute he would always ask me the same 
question: " Well, what is new in the world? " 

I remember replying to him: " I know noth- 
ing new; that's why I came to learn something 
new— from you-" 

Rubinstein, understanding at once the musi- 
cal meaning of my words, smiled, and the les- 
son thus promised to be a fine one- 

I noticed he was usually not alone when I 
came, but had as visitors several elderly ladies, 
sometimes very old ladies (mostly Russians), 
and some young giris — ^seldom any men. With 
a wave of his hand he directed me to the piano 
in the comer, a Bechstein, which was most of 
the time shockingly out of tune; but to this 
condition of his piano he was always serenely 
indifferent- He would remain at his desk study- 
ing the notes of the work while I played. He 
always compelled me to bring the pieces along, 
insisting that I should play everything just as 
it was written ! He would follow every note of 
my playing with his eyes riveted on the printed 
pages. A pedant he certainly was, a stickler for 

59 



PIANO PLAYING 

the letter — ^incredibly so, especially when one 
considered the liberties he took when he played 
the same works I Once I called his attention 
modestly to this seeming paradox, and he an- 
swered: " When you are as old as I am now 
you may do as I do — if you can," 

Once I played a Liszt Rhapsody pretty bad- 
ly. After a few moments he said: " The way 
you played this piece would be all right for 
auntie or mamma." Then rising and coming 
toward me he would say: " Now let us see how 
we play such things." Then I would begin all 
over again, but hardly had I played a few 
measures when he would interrupt and say: 
"Did you start? 1 thought I hadn't heard 
right " 

" Yes, master, I certainly did," I would 
reply. 

" Oh," he would say vaguely. " I didn't 
notice." 

" How do you mean? " I would ask. 

" I mean this," he would answer: " Before 
your fingers touch the keys you must begin the 
piece mentally — ^that is, you must have settled 
in your mind the tempo, the manner of touch, 

60 



HOW RUBINSTEIN TAUGHT 

and, above all, the attack of the first notes, be- 
fore your actual playing begins. And by-the- 
bye, what is the character of this piece? Is it 
dramatic, tragic, lyric, romantic, humourous, 
heroic, sublime, mystic — ^what? Well, why 
don't you speak? ** 

Grcnerally I would mutter something after 
such a tirade, but usually I said something 
stupid because of the awe with which he in- 
spired me. Finally, after trying several of his 
suggested designations I would hit it right. 
Then he would say: "Well, there we are at 
lastl Humourous, is it? Very welll And rhap- 
sodical, irregular — ^hey? You understand the 
meaning? ** I would answer, " Yes.'* 

" Very well, then," he would reply ; " now 
prove it.'* And then I would begin all over 
again. 

He would stand at my side, and whenever 
he wanted a special stress laid upon a certain 
note his powerful fingers would press upon my 
left shoulder with such force that I would stab 
the keys till the piano fairly screamed for me. 
When this did not have the eflPect he was after 
he would simply press his whole hand upon 

61 



PIANO PLAYING 

mine, flattening it out and spreading it like 
butter all over the keys, black and white ones, 
creating a frightful cacophony. Then he would 
say, almost with anger, " But cleaner, cleaner, 
cleaner," as if the discord had been of my 
doing. 

Such occurrences did not lack a humourous 
side, but their turn into the tragical always 
himg by a hair, especially if I had tried to ex- 
plain or to make excuses. So I generally kept 
silent, and I f oimd, after some experience, that 
was the only proper thing for me to do. For 
just as quickly as he would flare up he would 
also cahn down again, and when the piece was 
ended I would hear his usual comment : " You 
are an excellent yoimg man ! " And how 
quickly was all pain then forgotten 1 

I remember on one occasion that I played 
Schubert-Liszt's " Erl-Konig." When I came 
to the place in the composition where the Erl- 
King says to the child, " Thou dear, sweet 
child, oh, come with me," and I had played 
several false notes besides very poor arpeggios, 
Rubinstein asked me : " Do you know the text 
at this place? " 

62 



HOW RUBINSTEIN TAUGHT 

As a reply I quoted the words. 

" Very well, then," he said, " the Erl-King 
addresses the child; Erl-King is a spirit, a 
ghost — so play this place in a spiritlike way, 
ghostly, if you will, but not ghastly with false 
notes 1 " 

I had to laugh at his word-play and Rubin- 
stein himself chimed in, and the piece was 
saved, or rather the player. For when I re- 
peated that particular part it went very well, 
and he allowed me to continue without further 
interruption. 

Once I asked him for the fingering of a 
rather complex passage. 

" Play it with your nose," he replied, " but 
make it sound well I " 

This remark puzzled me, and there I sat and 
wondered what he meant. 

As I imderstand it now he meant: Help 
yourself 1 The Lord helps those who help tiiem- 
selvesl 

As I said before, Rubinstein never played 
for me the works I had to study. He explained, 
analysed, elucidated everything that he wanted 
me to know; but, this done, he left me to my 

63 



PIANO PLAYING 

own judgment, for only then, he would ex- 
plain, would my achievement be my own and 
incontestable property. I learned from Rubin- 
stein in this way the valuable truth that the 
conception of tone-pictures obtained through 
the playing of another gives us only transient 
impressions; they come and go, while the self- 
created conception will last and remain our 
own. 

Now, when I look back upon my study-days 
with Rubinstein, I can see that he did not so 
much instruct me as that I learned from him. 
He was not a pedagogue in the usual meaning 
of that word. He indicated to me an altitude 
offering a fine view, but how I was to get up 
there was my affair; he did not bother about 
it. "Play with your nosel" Yes — ^but when 
I bumped it till it fairly bled where would I 
get the metaphorical handkerchief? In my im- 
agination! And he was right. 

To be sure, this method would not work with 
all pupils, but it is nevertheless well calculated 
to develop a student's original thought and 
bring out whatever acumen he may possess. 
If such a one succeeded by his own study and 

64 



HOW RUBINSTEIN TAUGHT 

mental force to reach the desired point which 
the great magician's wizardry had made him 
see, he had gained the reliance in his own 
strength : he felt sure that he would always find 
that point again — even though he should lose 
his way once or twice, as every one with an 
honest aspiration is liable to do. 

I recall that Rubinstein once idaid to me: 
" Do you know why piano-playing is so diffi- 
cult? Because it is prone to be either aflPected 
or else afflicted with mannerisms; and when 
these two pitfalls are luckily avoided then it is 
liable to be — dryl The truth lies between those 
three mischiefs 1 ** 

When it was settled that I should make my 
Hamburg debut imder his baton with his own 
D-minor Concerto, I thought the time had 
come at last to study with him one of his own 
works. So I proposed it, but Rubinstein dis- 
posed of it 1 1 still see him, as if it were but yes- 
terday, seated in the greenroom of the Berlin 
Philharmonic during an intermission in his 
concert (it was on a Saturday) and telling me: 
" We shall appear together in Hambiurg on 
Monday.'' The time was short, but I knew the 

65 



PIANO PLAYING 

Concerto and hoped to go through it with him 
some time in the remaining two days. I asked 
his permission to play the Concerto for him, 
but he declined my urgent request, saying: " It 
is not necessary; we imderstand each other 1 '* 
And even in this critical moment he left me to 
my own resources. After the last (and only) 
rehearsal the great master embraced me before 
the whole orchestra, and I — ^well, I was not in 
the seventh, but in the " eighth " heaven 1 
Everything was all right, I said to myself, for 
Rubinstein, Rubinstein was satisfied I The pub- 
lic simply had to be! The concert went oflP 
splendidly. 

After that memorable debut in Hamburg, 
which was on March 14, 1894, I went directly 
to see Rubinstein, little dreaming that my eyes 
would then see him for the last time. I brought 
with me a large photograph of hhnself , and, 
though fully aware of his imconquerable aver- 
sion to autographing, my desire for the pos- 
session of his signature overruled my reluc- 
tance and I made my request. 

He raised both fists and thundered, half- 
angry and half -laughing: ^^ Et tu. Brute? '* 

66 



HOW RUBINSTEIN TAUGHT 

But my wish was granted, and I reproduce 
the portrait in this article. 

Then I asked him when I should play for 
him again, and to my consternation he an- 
swered: "Never I" 

In my despair I asked him: "Why not?" 

He, generous soul that he was, then said to 
me: " My dear boy, I have told you all I know 
about legitimate piano-playing and music- 
making " — and then changing his tone some- 
what he added : " And if you don't know it yet, 
why, go to the devil I " 

I saw only too well that while he smiled as 
he said it he meant it seriously, and I left him. 

I never saw Rubinstein again. Soon after 
that he returned to his viUa in Peterhof , near 
St. Petersburg, and there he died on Novem- 
ber 19, 1894. 

The effect that his death had upon me I shall 
never forget. The world appeared suddenly 
entirely empty to me, devoid of any interest. 
My grief made me realise how my heart had 
worshipped not only the artist in him but also 
the man; how I loved him as if he were my 
father. I learned of his death through the Eng- 

67 



PIANO PLAYING 

lish papers while I was en route from London 
to Cheltenham, where I was booked for a re- 
cital on the twentieth. The B-flat minor Sonata 
by Chopin happened to be on the programme, 
and as I struck the first notes of the Fmieral 
March the whole audience rose from their seats 
as if by command and remained standing with 
bowed heads during the whole piece — ^in hon- 
our of the great departed. 

A singular coincidence occurred at my con- 
cert on the preceding day — ^the day of Rubin- 
stein's death. 

On this day I played for the first time in 
public after my seven years' retirement (ex- 
cepting my Hambiurg debut). It was in Lon- 
don. In this concert I played, as a novelty, a 
Polonaise in E-flat minor which Rubinstein 
had but recently written in Dresden and dedi- 
cated to me. He had included it in the set 
called " Souvenirs de Dresde.** This piece has 
throughout the character of a Funeral March 
in all but the time-division. Little did I dream 
while I was playing it that day that I was sing- 
ing him into his eternal rest, for it was but a 
few hours later that, in the far East of Europe, 

68 



HOW RUBINSTEIN TAUGHT 

my great master passed away, suddenly, of 
heart failure. 

Two years later I played this same Polonaise 
for the second and last time. It was on the an- 
niversary of his death, in St. Petersburg, where 
in honour of his memory I gave a recital, the 
proceeds of which I devoted to the Rubinstein 
Fimd. Since then I have played this piece only 
once, at home and to myself, excluding it en- 
tirely from my public repertoire. For, though 
it was dedicated to me, the time and circum- 
stances of ite initial performance always made 
me feel as if it still belonged to my master, 
or, at best, as if it were something personal 
and private between us two. 



THE END 



69 



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